It’s mid-October, which means it’s too early to break out the Christmas lights and holiday streamers. We’ve still got Halloween to get through, right? And after our candy comas wear off, Thanksgiving turkeys, sugar cream pie, and Pilgrims are next on the agenda.
All of these holidays might seem like a long ways off, but here’s the thing: As of mid-October, Christmas is only 10 weeks away.
Yep, you basically have 10 weeks – or 10 Saturdays – left to craft your holiday gift lists, shop for presents, and package it all under the tree. In just 10 weeks, your day of holiday reckoning will arrive – and soon after, the credit card bills, if you’re not careful — whether you’re prepared or not.
What If You Started Saving Now?
If you haven’t started saving money for the holidays, you could be even worse off. You’ll not only be ill-prepared in terms of your shopping list, but you won’t have a bundle of money to pull from, either.
Obviously, the best way to prepare for the holidays is to have started saving months ago. In the absence of a time machine, however, you need to deal with reality. With 10 weeks left, you’ve got the potential to build up a holiday slush fund for sure. But, how much? It really depends.
Save $100 per week between now and Christmas and you’ll have $1,000 to spend on a very, very last-minute shopping spree. Save $50 per week until the big day, and you’ll have $500 to spend.
Or, let’s say you need time to shop. If you save $150 per week for the next six weeks, you would have $900 for holiday gifts. Save $50 for the next six weeks, and you would have $300 to spend. And so on and so forth.
While those numbers might sound preposterous, they’re not really out of whack. According to the National Retail Federation, consumers planned to spend an average of $805.65 each on holiday shopping in 2015.
Remember, the holiday shopping season encompasses everything you buy for everyone on your list – and even splurges you make for yourself. As the NRF notes, more than half (55.8%) of holiday shoppers also planned to take advantage of holiday sales to buy things for themselves in 2015, with around $131.59 earmarked for those purchases.
What Should You Do If You Won’t Have Enough?
With the holiday shopping season fast approaching, it’s crucial to get your plan together — and quickly. If you haven’t started saving yet, now is the time to come up with some type of savings plan to get you there.
If you’re pretty sure you’ll run short, here are some other tips that can help you make into 2017 without a pile of post-Christmas debt.
Don’t be average.
Here’s a novel idea: Instead of spending the average of $800 on holiday shopping this year, buy less. That’s right; whittle down your list, or spend less per person than you have in the past. If you don’t have the money to spend and fear you won’t have it before the holidays hit, reducing your budget is the best way to avoid debt.
One of my favorite strategies for reducing Christmas spending is cutting out the adults. Sure, you can buy something for your 40-year-old siblings and their spouses, but should you?
In my mind, the holiday season is mostly about the kids. Your sister and her husband can buy their own sweaters and candles this year.
Tell everyone you’re bowing out this year.
This strategy probably won’t fly if you have kids, but it may work with the adults in your life. If you normally participate in holiday gift exchanges, Sneaky Santa games, or something similar, do your best to remove yourself from the list.
Aunt Linda may not want to hear you’re not going to drop $40 on the gift exchange this year, but she may understand it better if you explain you’re short on funds. Or maybe she doesn’t need to understand. It’s your money, it’s your life, and it’s your right not to participate for any reason.
Get crafty and make your own gifts.
While the concept of “making homemade gifts” is regurgitated often in the personal finance space, it bears repeating. If you don’t want to fork over a lot of cash to buy gifts at the store, you can make many types of gifts yourself.
Trent has written about myriad homemade gift ideas before, with posts on making everything from homemade vanilla to photo cubes and more. Regardless of your artistic talents, the idea is this: When you take the time to make something yourself, the people you love tend to appreciate it more. And if you can personalize your homemade gift, that’s even better.
- Related: 15 DIY Holiday Gift Ideas Under $15
Cash in some credit card rewards.
Sitting on an unused stash of points and miles? Depending on your rewards program, you may be able to cash them in for a statement credit or gift cards. If you have this option, you can use your rewards to fulfill at least part of your holiday obligations this year.
I suggested this very thing to a family friend who fell on hard times last year. She didn’t have the money for gifts, she said, but she did have around 50,000 miles with the Southwest Rapid Rewards program.
Unbeknownst to her, she could easily turn those miles in for gift cards at a rate of one cent per point. So, all of a sudden, she went from having a holiday budget of zero to having $500 in Walmart and Toys ‘R’ Us gift cards. While you won’t get as much value out of your points if you go this route compared to cashing them in for free travel, it might be worth it if you’re truly short on funds.
The Bottom Line
If you haven’t started shopping for the holidays, you should start saving now. With around ten weeks left until the big day, you still have time to build up a meaningful amount of cash.
On the flip side, you can also set your sights a little lower this year. By opting out of gift exchanges, reducing the number of people on your list, and spending a little less per person, you can save a bundle on your holiday budget whether you have the cash or not.
Either way, the holiday season will be here before we know it – and whether we’re ready or not. It’s best to start planning now.
Do you have a holiday savings goal for this year? How much do you plan to spend?